Clear Mountain Garden Treasures

Clear Mountain Garden TreasuresThe Good Life

The Good Life

A veggie, herb garden / orchard can provide the family with fresh produce for most of the year. Vegetables are sweetest when used straight from the garden. Anyone who has eaten peas straight out of their pod will find that shop bought ones are no comparison. Fresh vegetables are also high in vitamin C, plus their flavour is unbeatable. Gardeners can employ organic or spray free practises to grow healthy food. It is also possible to grow uncommon varieties, for example, heirloom, that are not commonly available at the supermarket.

Self heal is an easy to
grow perennial herb.

Herbs are also best used when fresh. Excess herbs can be dried or preserved for use when they are normally out of season. Dried herbs will often have a different flavour.

When fruit is in season, walk into the orchard, pick a ripe fruit and pop it straight into the mouth. Fresh fruit has the highest vitamin content, and with the right combination of fruit trees and shrubs, it is possible to have fresh fruit almost all year round.

Creating the Garden
Sandy soils
Starting from seed
Perennial veggies
Potato, kumara and yam
Berry Fruit
Fruit Trees
Growing Together
Plant Rotation

 Creating the Garden

Cape gooseberries require
well drained soils.

All good gardens start with the soil. New veggie gardens can be created in one of several ways. The traditional way is to kill all grass and weeds, then dig the soil over. If the drainage is poor, a small amount of sand can be added. Too much sand can cause the soil to cake up.

Add loads of compost to the soil. Compost not only helps to improve the drainage, it also helps the soil retain water. The soil is a living structure. Compost encourages microbial and inverterbrate (eg. earthworms) activity in the soil, resulting in healthier plants. The earthworm is, perhaps, the gardener's best friend. It tirelessly tills and aerates the soil, and injests and recycles organic matter, releasing nutrients back into the soil.

Raised beds should be used where the soil is very poorly drained. A box is built using either railway sleepers, bricks or concrete blocks and then filled in with a soil / compost mixture. Wood tanalised with CCA should not be used as there is a risk of arsenic leaking from the wood and contaminating the soil.

Tomato Tiny Tim

Dwarf tomatoes do
not need staking.

A no dig garden is a specialised raised bed. It is made up of layers of different material on top of the existing soil. The bottom layers suppress weeds from the soil and provide drainage, and the top layers provide the growing medium for the veggies. For more information, see this article on the ABC's web site.

The lack of space should not be a barrier to sucessful gardening. The veggie garden can be created in a planter box. Dwarf plants can be grown instead of their full sized cousins, for example, dwarf tomatoes that do not need staking are very suitable for growing in a container.


Lime should be used to neutralise acidic soils. Most soils in New Zealand are acidic, so chances are a new veggie garden will need to be limed. If in doubt, a cheap soil pH tester kit can be used to check the acidity of the soil. The ideal pH is around 6.5.

Lime also has a secondary effect on clay soils. Clay soils are made up of fine particles and hold a lot of water and fertiliser, but can become waterlogged in wet weather, or baked dry in the summer. Lime floculates the tiny particles, giving the soil a crumb like texture, making it easier to dig. For soils that already have the correct pH, gypsum can be used to break it up.

Lime is also found in mushroom compost. If this copmpost is used to start new veggie gardens, it is often not necessary to add more lime.

 Sandy soils

Sandy soils are made up of large particles of soil and equally large air gap between the particles. Any water that is applied will rapidly run off through the large gaps, leaching away most fertilisers. As a result, not much will grow on sandy soils.

While a certain amount of clay can be added to sandy soils to help retain water, a better additive is compost. Compost helps retain water, while still preserving the good drainage of sand. A lot of compost will be needed to improve poor sandy soils.


To help soils further retain moisture, mulch with lawn clipings or pea straw. The mulch prevents the top layer of the soil from drying out in the sun or wind, and also keeps the soil cool. It also suppresses weeds and provides ideal conditions for earthworms to flourish. Eventually, the mulch breaks down to enrich the soil.

 Starting from seed

Annual and biennial veggies should be started from seed. Sow the seed in-situ once the ground has warmed sufficiently. Sow a few seeds and cover with seed raising mix. Do not allow th seeds to dry out. Alternatively, sow a few seeds to a small pot of seed raising mix.

When the seedlings have emerged, thin out to the strongest and plant out when the weather is warmer. Cut off the weaker seedlings rather than pulling them out. This ensures that the remaining seedling's roots are not disturbed.

Spring Summer Autumn Winter
  Beans   Broad Beans
Beetroot, carrot & raddish  
  Cauli and brocoli  
Cucurbits (Eg. Pumpkin, squash, cucumber, melons and gourds)
Lettuce (warm weather) Lettuce (cold weather)
Silver beet
Spinach (warm weather) Spinach (cold weather)  
Seed sowing times for popular vegetables. The times may vary slightly depending on the variety. Use this only as a guide.

For leaf vegetables, such as brasiccas (cabbage, cauli, brocoli), spinach, silverbeet and letttuce, start the seeds in a tray and transplant the seedlings when large enough to handle. Corn should be sown in-situ as it resents being moved. Feed and water well to encourage quick growth.

Root vegetables such as carrots, parsnip, beetroot and raddish should be sown in situ. They resent transplanting and if the tap root is damaged, it will result in a deformed vagetable.

Cucurbits, chillies and tomatoes ought to be started indoors, August to October, and planted out in November. For more information, see the culture notes for melons, chillies and tomatoes.

 Perennial veggies

Asparagus is very long lived, and at planting time, preparation of the soil is very important. The soil should be dug deeply and plenty of manure incorporated. Create a small mound and plant the asparagus roots with the crown just below the soil surface.

Rhubarb is equally long lived and the soil should be similarly prepared.

Scarlet runner beans should be started from seed at the same time the other beans are started. The vines will die down in the winter, but tubers under the soil will survive. Mulch the tubers well and they will sprout again the following spring. The vines will need a strong support structure to climb.

 Potato, kumara and yam

Seed potatoes should be left in a warm bright spot to sprout before planting. Plant the whole potato, in a trough, with the sprouted eyes sitting just below the surface of the soil. As the plant grows mound up soil around the plant. For new potatoes, dig around the plants when they start to flower. Remove the new potatoes and if the plants are left to grow, they will continue to produce a second crop. Main crop potatoes should be left in the ground until the tops start to die down. Do not lime the soil just before planting potatoes as lime can cause scab. Do not feed potatoes with too much nitrogen fertilisers or the tubers may become hollow.

Sprout kumara by sitting the tuber in a shallow saucer of water, placed in a warm spot. When the sprouts are 10-15cm long, detach them from the tuber and plant. Kumara likes sandy, well drained soils. Place a sheet of corrugated iron below the soil to stop the roots from growing too deep. New tubers grow from these roots and it helps if one does not have to dig too deep to get at the tubers. As the plant grows, vines will come into contact with the soil and put down roots. Do not allow this to happen. Kumara shoots are edible and can be used either in a stir fry or in soups.

Yams should be planted in late winter or early spring. Be careful where they are planted because once established, they are very hard to get rid off. They are a kind of oxalis and will leave numerous small tubers in the soil, each will grow into a new plant. When the leaves die down in the winter, leave the yams in the soil so that they get frosted. This increases the sugar content and makes them tastier.


A herb garden complements a veggie garden very well. Annual and biennial herbs are started from seed, usually in the spring. The exception is coriander, which should be started in the autumn, when temperatures are lower. Spring grown coriander tend to go to seed too quickly. Parsley is a biennial and will grow during its first year and then flower and set seed in its second.

Mint is best grown in a container. It is a perennial that spreads via underground runners and can become invasive. It likes moist rich soils. Remove the flowers as soon as they appear, usually in late summer and autumn. This encourages the plant to grow shoots and keep mostly green over the winter.

Other perennial herbs such as sage, rosemary, tarragon and lavender are best grown in poor soils. Rich soils encourage a lot of leafy growth that is poor in flavour. Provide some water during the hot summer months, but they generally look after themselves. Sage and pineapple sage will need to be cut back every winter. Rosemary and lavender will need regular pruning to stop them from becoming woody.

 Berry Fruit

Berry fruit can be grown in the veggie garden. Strawberry plants should be started in the summer, and allowed to grow without fruiting for the first season. Then in the next spring, feed with potassium and super phosphate. This encourages the plants to flower and fruit. Mulch with straw or composted pine needles to keep the fruit from the soil. Black polythene may be used with care. In the summer, detach runners and grow these on as replacement plants. Strawberries should be replaced every two years. The alpine strawberry produces a small white fruit that does not turn red when ripe. It is very vigourous, in part because it does not produce runners, and will produce fruit in its first year.

Raspberry, blackberry and currents are all closely related and all belong to the Ribes genus. Raspberry canes should be planted in late autumn or winter, in a row. Do not allow the plants to fruit in their first year. In the following spring, one year old canes will flower and fruit. In the autumn, cut out all canes that have fruited. Blackberry is similarly grown, except they require more room, and the canes should be planted further apart. Care should be taken when growing raspberries and blackberries as they can become invasive.

There are 3 types of currents, black, red and white. Plant them in fertile soils, and mulch well. Blackcurrent fruits on second year canes. When pruning, remove old unproductive canes and have a system of young canes replace the old ones, over a two year period. Red and white currents fruit on one year old canes. After harvest, cut out canes that have fruited.

Blueberries grow on a shrubby plant that likes water logged acidic soils. Cross pollination is required to set fruit properly, so plant two varieties close to each other. Blueberry fruits best on one year old vigourous canes. After harvest, cut out the twiggy growth that accompanies the fruits. Feed with tomato food.

Cape gooseberry is a short lived perennial that can be grown as an annual in colder climates. For more information, see the cape gooseberry culture information.

 Fruit Trees

Fruit trees can be planted at the edges of the veggie garden, preferbly on the south side. This will not shade the garden and provides some shelter. The usual time to plant fruit trees is winter. They can be purchased bare root from most nurseries and garden centres, or sometimes bagged. It is important that when planting fruit trees, the roots are heeled in. Tie the tree to two stakes, driven into the ground on opposite sides of the trunk. Trees in production should be fed well when they are growing.

Pip fruit (apples, pears and quince) flower on second year wood. It is common to prune the trees to an open bush or pyramid shape. In the winter, after harvesting, prune all vertical laterals back to 2-3 buds. This encourages a spur system to grow that will flower annually. After several years, when the spurs start to get crouded, prune 1/3 to 1/2 off. Codling moth is a serious pest of pip fruit trees and pheromone traps should be set. Spray if moths are caught in the traps.

Stone fruit (cherry, plum, peach, nectarine, apricot and almond) flower on one year old wood. Prune the trees so that they form a vase shape, with an open centre. Prune in the summer after harvesting, by removing all weak and thin growths. Shorten strong growths to encourage branching - these will be the fruiting wood for the next year. It is important that stone fruit be pruned in the summer as they are susceptable to the silver leaf disease, for which there is no cure. Silver leaf infects open wounds during cold wet weather. Spray peaches and nectarines with lime sulphur just prior to bud burst in late winter to control leaf curl.

Pollination Most pip and stone fruit trees require two different varieties to cross pollinate before setting fruit. The two trees must be planted close to each other or grafted onto the same root stock. In areas where bees are scarce, hand pollination may be required for good fruit set. Use a small paint brush tied to the end of a long stick to transfer pollen from flower to flower.

The smaller growing citrus trees can be planted between larger fruit trees. While which household would be without the lemon, there is also a large selection of other citrus varieties, mostly suited to warmer climates. Citrus trees are shallow rooted and require well drained soils that is heavily mulched. Feed every 3-4 weeks during the growing season, and water regularly. During periods of hot dry weather, they may need daily watering. If the leaves start to turn yellow, feed with epsom salts. Lightly prune citrus when you pick the fruits. They flower on new growth, so avoid hard pruning. Citrus is self fertile, but if cross pollinated, will grow pips in its fruit.

Grape vines are relatively easy to grow in many parts of New Zealand. Our climate, with cool winters and hot dry summers, is naturally suited to growing grapes. The sweetest grapes are from vines that get a lot of sun while the grapes are ripening. Pick a site that gets plenty of autumn sun. When planting a new vine, it is essential that the grape is grafted on to a root stock that is resistent to the Phylloxera root aphid. Train the vine along a support structure. In the summer, stop all laterals after 10 or so leaves, then in the winter, shorten the laterals back to 2-3 buds. These will flower in the following spring.

Feijoa makes a nice dense hedge and grows a delicious fruit. For more information on growing feijoa, see the culture notes.

 Growing Together

Certain plants complement each other and should be planted closely. For example, tomato, basil and marigold. Basil is said to enhance the flavour of tomato, and marigold wards off nasty bugs.

A different type of companion planting involves corn, beans and squash, as practised by Native Americans. The corn would provide support for climbing beans. Beans fix nitrogen in the soil for the corm, and squash is under planted to get some shade and shelter.

Companion planting need not only be restricted to functional aspects. Annual flower plants can be grown in the veggie garden to provide it colour Flowers can also be planted amongst fruit trees to attract bees as pollinators. Cineraria flowers very early in the season, and coincides with the floweing times of pip and some stone fruit. Veggies and herbs can also be grown in flower beds. For example, Parsley has a neat growth habbit and makes a nice dark green complement to colourful flowers.

 Plant Rotation

If the same type of plant is grown in the same spot year for several years, nutrients that it favours will be depleted and minerals that it does not need will accumulate in the soil. Eventually the soil becomes less able to support the plant. Plant diseases also sticks around in the soil. These lie in wait, ready to infect the plant when the conditions are right. To counter theses problems, from year to year, different plants should be planted in different spots in the garden. This is known as crop rotation.

A simple crop rotation for the home garden is as follows: Beans, leafy vegetables (eg. brassicas, lettuce), root vegetalbes (except potato), Solanaceae family, corn. The garden is partitioned into 5 areas and the plants are grown in a different area each season, using the above rotation. In the winter, cover crops, such as lupin and mustard will soak up the nutrients from the soil, preventing them from leaching. They also keep weeds at bay, and the lupin fixes nitrogen into the soil. Dig the plants in around September, allowing one month for them to rot down before planting.

Members of the Solanaceae family, eg. tomato, chilly and potato can be attacked by the same diseases. It is very important that theses are not planted in the same spot from year to year.

It is not possible to do crop rotation in a greenhouse so the soil should be replaced yearly.







Featured Plants
Click to view
This month: Dragon Fruit
This species of night blooming cactus... [More...]
Click to view
Last month: Furcraea longaeva
This relative of agaves produces a huge... [More...]
Random Plant
Click to view
Kafir Lily
The Kafir Lily is a bog plant that... [More...]